Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Views From The Clare, 12/30/08

Yesterday I entered my new apartment at The Clare for the first time! I loved it. Here are my first pictures; I'll wait until the furniture is there before posting any more. Of course the place still looks empty.

The top picture shows part of my view to the east: a bit of Lake Michigan, the Water Tower Place shopping mall and Macy's on Michigan Avenue, other buildings. Had I been able to venture out on the balcony (not a good idea on the 35th floor in Chicago's winter), I could have shown the old Chicago Water Tower and other buildings closer to The Clare. It's a fine view, and there are others to the north.

The second photo shows part of my kitchen. The refrigerator is off to the right. It's not a very big kitchen, but I have my usual stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops. I learned to love them in my condo. Since I don't cook anyway, the size of the kitchen doesn't matter.

There are big floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere, with blinds to cover them, of course. I think I'll like living in a high-rise building. Perhaps that's because I grew up on a Wisconsin farm. Anyway, moving day is creeping up (January 9), so watch for further reports.

A move to a senior building is a big event for anyone, but I'm glad to do it before I need assisted living or nursing care. It's comforting to know that those sections exist in the building should I ever need them--and I probably will.
Photos by the author.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday Reflections

I'm happy to report that I am now back home. It was an easy trip, quite unlike my snowy experience on December 23. As I look back on my holiday excursion, I have come to a few conclusions:

1. People are basically kind and helpful. Drivers, wheelchair attendants, even security screeners went beyond their basic duties for this temporaarily handicapped traveler and remained cheerful. Strangers offered help on several occasions: offers to get food and water as I waited hours in my wheelchair at the gate in Chicago; early boarding help when the plane finally arrived.

2. Having family is wonderful. Childless as I am, I often forget how nice it is to have relatives invite me for the holidays, even when I am far from my best. I guess relatives accept one in any condition. Many thanks to my niece Cindy, her husband Scott, and their daughter Lauren. They kept me comfortable and too well fed, and even pushed me around during a museum visit.

3. Holiday travel is filled with difficulties, including crowds and bad weather, but it's worth doing. I'm very glad I opted not to spend Christmas alone in my condo worrying about my problems. I've come back rejuvenated and ready to face whatever comes.

I'm happy to report that I'm walking a bit better (I still have four weeks of therapy to go, and it was interrupted by the holidays). Today, I visit my new residence at The Clare for the first time. A report will be forthcoming.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to All

Here's hoping that Santa Claus brought you everything you wanted, including health, happiness, and peace!

Marlys Marshall Styne (Seniorwriter)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Bah Humbug Day--But All Turns Out Well

As anyone in or near Chicago knows, Tuesday, December 23, was a day of snow, snow, snow. News reports revealed that 400--or up to 700, depending on the report--airline flights from Chicago were delayed, and my flight to Tulsa was one of them.

It was snowing lightly at daybreak, and the weather news was not good. However, I had faith that the limo service I had engaged would get me to Midway Airport. The driver came as scheduled, and he was very helpful. Picture me trying to maneuver my walker, pull a suitcase, and carry a small travel bag and a purse. Having four hands would have been useful. The driver, a tall young Italian, had to carry the bags to the van and escort me through the ice and snow and help me get in. I avoided falling.

On the way to midway, we saw a lot of emergency equipment, including fire engines, and saw a rollover accident. Meanwhile, the snow kept falling. I arrived at Midway in plenty of time, and got the help I needed: a wheelchair and a boarding pass. Security was time-consuming, due to my recent knee replacements and my lack of agility, but I got through that too with the help of the wheelchair pusher.

As things turned out, our plane could not get in because of poor visibility and was diverted to Columbus, Ohio, and the airport was soon shut down, as I sat in the wheelchair and watched the windows turn white with snow. Eventually, the airport reopened, and I could see long trains of snowplows going everywhere, as well as de-icing trucks working on the few planes in sight.

As it turned out, we eventually got on the plane, only to see the snow begin falling again. I was afraid the the airport would close down again, and that we would be stranded overnight. But thanks to a truck labeled "Iceman 14," the plane was deiced and eventually took off for the first stop, St. Louis. It was raining there, not snowing, so there were no further delays on the way to Tulsa. However, the plane was at least five hours late.

I was so happy to see my niece, my grandniece, and my brother at long last! They kept track of the Chicago airport saga on line, and avoided a long wait at the Tulsa airport. My niece's husband has still not arrived from Texas, where he was on a job assignment. Apparently, the national air system hasn't quite recovered.

Christmas season travel can be brutal, but I'm happy to say that all turned out well for me. I hope that all of you who dare to travel this season have equally happy outcomes. I still love Chicago, in spite of the weather. And spending the holiday with family is priceless.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays to All!

To friends, relatives, and those who read my blog:

I want to wish you all joy during the coming holidays and for the coming new year. For the first time in many years, I haven't mailed out my usual Christmas letters and cards. If you've been reading about what's going on in my life, you know that I've been busy and distracted and sometimes depressed, so an account of my year would not be much fun to read (except for my spring trip to South Africa and my little book of poetry).

I assure those of you on my official holiday list that I'll be corresponding in January, hopefully to give you my new address and a progress report. Meanwhile, I've enjoyed all the cards and letters I've received. I'm off to Tulsa, Oklahoma, tomorrow, weather permitting, to spend Christmas with my niece and her family, as well as my brother. I hope to return rejuvenated on December 29. Then January 9 is moving day, if all goes well.

I may or not post blog entries while I'm away, but of course I'll write my usual holiday report after I return. Meanwhile, enjoy food and family and good books. May 2009 be a better year for us all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Visiting The Clare Again

Yesterday was The Clare's holiday party. I decided to load my walker into my car and head for the building's valet parking service, even though a coctail party is not the best environment for anyone using a walker. I felt awakward and clumsy, but I'm glad I went.

The food was great! I met the head chef, whose size reminded me that if I tried to eat all the available food, I'd soon be as large as he is. At least his size suggests that he's an appreciator of food, if not of the low calorie variety.

The staff was friendly as usual, even bringing me food and wine (did you ever try to carry buffet food while using a walker?), and I talked to several of my future neighbors. I discovered that quite a few of us are still trying to sell houses and condos. I seem to be the only one in that situation who's gambling on a specific moving date. Just daring, I guess.

We were serenaded by Christmas carolers in historic garb. They were very good. The decorations were beautiful. It was a festive occasion.

Toward the end of the party, I decided to take advantage of a partial building tour. I saw the chapel, the gym (not yet equipped), the small swimming pool, various dining rooms, and one model apartment. It was a one-bedroom apartment not much like mine will be, but this was my first chance to see actual living quarters. Again, I was impressed.

It was at the end of the short tour that the only snafu happened: the working elevator suddenly was not working (of the three in the elevator bank, one was out of order at the beginning; another was still being used by the construction crew). For a moment, I paniced; I was in no condition to walk down nine floors. Fortunately, the staff came to our group's rescue and led us to the freight elevator. I got down safely and drove home safely.

Having been pretty much a recluse since my operation, I was tired by this experience, but happy that I ventured out. The Clare is a beautiful building, and my move is only about three weeks away. Will I be ready? Probably not, considering my coming trip to Tulsa for Christmas, but after the boredom of a nursing home, some excitement should be good for me. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My First Visit to The Clare

If you've been following the saga of my coming move to The Clare at Water Tower (shown nearly finished in August, 2008), you know that it's been a building under construction for quite a few years. That means I'd never been inside.

Yesterday was the day of my first visit! I had a meeting on the 16th floor. That floor (an office floor) looked beautiful. The staff has now moved from temporary headquarters in the nearby Hancock Center to their actual offices at The Clare. The valet parking system was operating (that suits my present handicapped condition), and the staff was welcoming.

At least one couple has moved in; the rate is supposed to be about one or two moves per day from now on. Have I seen my on apartment yet? No, but I hope that I soon will. My moving date is set for January 9, although my condo has not sold and my financial problems have not been solved.

Anyway, just entering the building made me feel better. I have been somewhat depressed lately, but it seems that my dream of living in a luxury highrise senior building will really come true. I'll be blogging about what the experience is really like: moving and settling in, the companies such as Moving Station and Mature Transitions that have helped me so far. What is living in a senior community really like? I'll let you know.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Looking on the Bright Side

Anyone reading this blog lately will have concluded that I have been depressed and feeling sorry for myself: two knee replacements, nearly six weeks in a hospital and a nursing home, financial problems, uncertainty, bad weather, an unsold condo, a fall. My list of problems seems to have been getting longer.

In the interest of not being one of those endlessly complaining elders, I have decided to look on the bright side. I will try my best to smile and look forward to happier times.

Perhaps my condo will be sold soon; there have been a few showings lately. That, or possibly a loan, could solve my financial problems.

My move to The Clare on January 9 may work out as scheduled. I have some promises of help, a mover, an organizer, and a sympathetic staff at the Clare.

I visit the surgeon on Thursday. I'm hoping to hear that all is well with my knees. I'm also hoping that I can get into my car and drive to the appointment. That way, I can avoid icy sidewalks.

Christmas is coming. If I can deal with airports and luggage, I will be among extended family. I've always enjoyed Christmas with my niece and her family, as well as my brother. We're not a close family, either geographically or emotionally, but it's fun to get together. I've felt very alone lately.

A new year is on the way. 2008 has been a rather painful and depressing year for me; 2009 can only be better. I have a lot to look forward to. Wish me luck!

(Thanks to my grand-niece, Lauren Truby, for her encouraging comment.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fear of Falling

If you're past a certain age, you probably have seen and remembered those ads: "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" They promote a service providing buttons for senior citizens to push for help in emergencies. I used to laugh at those ads, but yesterday, I could have posed for one of them. Yes, I fell down, and no, I couldn't get up.

My physical therapist says it takes at least one good leg to get up from the floor, and so far, after two knee replacements, I don't have even one good leg. I wasn't paying attention, and I fell getting out of my recliner.

At first I was in a state of panic: would I die right there on my living room floor? After I calmed down, I realized that I could slide across the floor. I tried to reach some support that would allow me to get up, but alas, I couldn't get up no matter what I tried. Then I realized that I might be able to reach one of my telephones on a living room table, and I finally did. My phone directory was conveniently located on the same table.

So whom to call? If I called 911, I'd get a response, but in a building without a doorman, that might bring a fireman with an axe to open my door (as it did years ago) and a trip to an emergency room. I wasn't in need of medical help. I just needed to stand up.

I finally decided to call Laurie, a helpful old friend who lives fairly close. She still has keys to my building and my condo after helping me out while I was in the nursing home. It was only six a.m., but I called her. She promised to come, and she did. Laurie is a retired nurse, so I knew that if anyone could help me get up, she could.

Unfortunately, Laurie is not a large, powerful person, and she couldn't lift me up by herself. Then I thought of one of my condo neighbors, Cathy, who is a nurse--and an early riser. Laurie knocked on her door, and she came in to help. Between the two of them, I was lifted up and back in my recliner. How grateful I was and am!

That experience made me very shaky; in a bit less than an hour on the floor, I seemed to have lost my confidence that I could take care of myself. A good night's sleep has helped, but I'm now very careful about getting to my feet. I never thought I'd be one of those "I've fallen and I can't get up!" elders.

I guess the message is that while we treasure our independence, complete independence is sometimes impossible. I hope to recover from this knee replacement ordeal, but will I ever be able to lift myself up from the floor again? Getting old is very difficult, and these are trying times for me. Let's hope I have good news to write about soon!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, November 28, 2008

Guest Post: After Knee Replacement Surgery--What to Expect

By Sarah Scrafford

Our knees are subject to intense strain each time we walk or even stand. So it’s no surprise that these joints tend to give out sooner or later, especially when you become old or if you’re regularly involved in activities that place undue stress on them. Knee replacement surgery involves coating the worn ends of your thigh and shin bones and/or your kneecap with metal and plastic surfaces. The success of this surgery depends as much on the skill of the surgeon wielding the scalpel as on your ability to follow instructions after the procedure. Here’s what you need to do to get back to normal life once your surgery is complete:

Adhere strictly to your physiotherapy and rehabilitation program: Knee replacement surgeries are followed by rehab programs that last between six weeks and three months. Your therapist will guide you through a whole range of exercises designed to improve mobility and strengthen your thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings). It’s important that you follow these exercises regularly; if you feel lazy or if you think it’s not worth the effort, then the whole point of going under the knife is a wasted exercise.

Don’t put on additional weight: Your knees support your entire weight, so don’t give them additional strain by packing on the pounds. Eat sensibly and exercise according to your doctor’s instructions so that you don’t gain weight after the surgery.

Monitor your medical conditions: While not a life-threatening procedure, knee replacement surgery does come with a few risks like the formation of blood clots, infection of the incision, or a nerve injury. Call your doctor at the slightest feeling of discomfort to ensure that there’s nothing to worry about.

Refrain from intense activities: While it’s true that your knees are sort of brand new, there are limitations to what you can do with these “replaced” joints. Any activity that puts a large amount of stress on your knees is not advisable – like running and sports like tennis or squash. You’ll probably be able to walk, exercise on a stationery bike, swim, golf, and ski though.

Stay positive: The worst part of any surgery is the pain you feel immediately after you wake up in the recovery room. Knowing what to expect and being ready to deal with it is an important part of the recovery process. Accept that there will be pain and that it will go away with time. Staying positive and not griping about your condition go a long way in speeding up the recovery process.

This article is contributed by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the topic of Radiology Technician Classes. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgivings Past and Present

As this year's Healthy Choice turkey dinner awaits in my freezer and the organizers of Chicago's Thanksgiving Day parade prepare for their 8:00 a.m. step-off, I have decided to rerun last year's post about Thanksgiving memories. This has been a trying year, but I take comfort in reviewing Thanksgivings past and present, joyous and not, in the hope that next year will be better. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Here is what I wrote last year:

"I remember the hot kitchen, the wonderful smells, my grandma in her white "cooking dress" making sure that everything was just right. I remember the spotless white linen tablecloth and napkins, the polished silver, the gleaming china and crystal, the place settings arranged just right, no fork out of place.I remember the small family gathered about, just five of us, my father silent as usual, my mother trying to be helpful despite her barely-disguised dislike of her mother-in-law. I remember my brother impatiently waiting for the food, eager to escape to a more active atmosphere somewhere, perhaps a ball game with his friends if the weather was good. I remember sneaking just one more chocolate from the Whitman’s Sampler box that was a holiday tradition. I had no fear of "spoiling" my gigantic appetite when I was surrounded by such great smells!

"I remember my own little apartment kitchen, my husband struggling to cook everything on the tiny stove and in the tiny oven while I tried to find places for all the mismatched plates on the long, makeshift table with the slightly stained gold permanent press tablecloth. The napkins were paper.I remember the crowd of ten or twelve crammed into the little apartment, mostly the single patrons of my husband’s bar who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Family Thanksgivings had been a tradition in my husband’s family, so this was an important day for him. I was as inept at cooking then as I am now, but he did it enthusiastically. Most of the guests were men, and they ate every crumb of food. We seldom had leftovers in those years. A few guests fell asleep immediately after dinner, usually on the floor if any space was available there.

"We continued this Thanksgiving dinner tradition for several years after we moved to our house nearby. It was not a large house, but we filled it with good food and holiday joy for many of the same guests, and a few more.

"I remember the year when we finally ran out of friends to invite for Thanksgiving dinner; everyone had a family and lived in the suburbs by then, while we were still a city family of two. We made reservations for dinner at the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock Center. It seemed very expensive to my frugal husband, but he ultimately enjoyed the experience. We ate so much at the sumptuous buffet that we couldn’t eat much of the small turkey provided for us, so we took it home (as advertised and recommended). Jules made turkey soup and turkey sandwiches enough to last at least a week. I think we got our money’s worth that year.

"I remember our last Thanksgiving together in 1999. It was also my last Thanksgiving with my mother, who was eighty-eight years old by then and living in a retirement condo in Northfield, Minnesota. My nephew and his wife cooked dinner at their house, and two grand-nieces were there as well. The food was fine, but I remember little about it. My mother lived on until this year, and I always sent her flowers for Thanksgiving. However, I didn’t join her in Northfield for the holiday again.

"I remember mostly that my husband was not feeling well on Thanksgiving, 1999, that he left immediately after dinner to return to the motel to rest. That was very uncharacteristic of him; he was usually the life of the party. I was very worried. He seemed to feel better later, but it wasn’t long after our return home that his pancreatic cancer was diagnosed. He would die in March of the following year.

"I remember later Thanksgivings with a friend’s family, including her husband and her two daughters. That tradition, begun when Jules was still alive, ended when one of my friends’ daughters moved away and her parents began to visit her for Thanksgiving. I understood.

"This year [2007], I’ll enjoy my Lean Cuisine turkey dinner, watch parades on television, read, write, and feel content. I may even open a bottle of Chardonnay. I’ve come to terms with the changes brought by aging and the passing of time and loved ones, and it’s all right. However, I am happy to remember those Thanksgivings from the past and many more, the good and the bad. Life goes on."

Co9pyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Agony of Uncertainty

Have you ever felt like your world is crashing down around you? Unfortunately, that's the way I've been feeling, which explains the decreased frequency of my posts here. My recovery from knee replacement surgery doesn't seem to be going especially well (too much pain, too little movement), but other matters are affecting me more.

I have a moving date: January 9. That's the day I'm supposed to move from my condo to The Clare at Water Tower lifetime care community. I have an estimate from a mover. I have tentative plans to get more help from an organizer and downsizer. So what's wrong? My condo has not sold, despite price reductions. If it doesn't sell by the end of the year, I will probably not have enough money to pay the entrance fee at the Clare. I have big decisions to make.

Do I give up my plan and dream of moving to The Clare? I hate that idea. Can I borrow money? Acccording to my financial planner, I can't get a home equity loan on a condo which is on the market, even though it's mortgage-free. Will the Clare help me with a payment plan, or arrange a loan? I haven't been able to get an answer to that question.

I have less than a month to solve these problems; then I'll be off to visit relatives for Christmas, so things must be settled by then. Help!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rehab Life in Diapers: What a Nursing Home is Really Like

So you think a nursing home could be a good place to read, write and relax? Perhaps it might be if you could afford a private room, but if a roommate prefers to watch TV most of the time, it's easy to just go with the flow. I've never watched so many soap operas and newscasts in my life! At least I was able to watch Chicago Bears games on Sundays and lots of election hoopla, not to mention depressing economic commentary.

Don't get me wrong; the nursing home where I languished for nearly five weeks wasn't bad, as nursing homes go. It's just that I'd always thought of nursing homes as necessary places for some very old people in the final stages of life. I didn't belong there, or so I thought.

Since I live alone, without a family caregiver, I had no choice but to move from hospital to rehab care after double knee replacement surgery. That's how I got my first-hand look at a nursing home.

Despite a lot of hard effort by the overworked staff, things did not exactly move like clockwork there. There seemed to be a lack of communication among staff members and between staff and patients. Patience became my motto.

I was not able to walk to the bathroom for a while, so I had to wear diapers. I now know why babies cry then they're wet. There were some agonizingly long waits for changes, and later the annoyance of an aide waking me up regularly during the night to ask if I was wet, even after I had recovered enough to shed the diapers. I guess the night shift had too little to do.

I don't think many people get much sleep in a nursing home unless they take sleeping pills. I did not. I was treated to loud post-midnight TV down the hall, arguing and laughing employees, and the occasional loud patient complaint.

Laundry seems to be a problem. Two pair of my sweat pants went to the laundry, where they immediately disappeared. One pair eventually reappeared, but the other is gone forever. My roommate sent her laundry home with her daughter. I solved the problem by begging a few more pair of sweat pants and shirts and just alternating them, dirty or clean. Better soiled clothes than none at all! A hospital gown is not appropriate for all occasions and activities.

We were offered showers every two days. Taking a shower while swathed in bandages was more trouble than it was worth, especially when I couldn't stand up or walk. Showers not only took forever, but they required waiting long after being summoned for physical therapy; the line for showers was always long. I soon insisted on fewer showers and more therapy time.

As an early riser, I spent many hours sitting up in bed watching the passing activity in the hall. It was too dark to read or write, and I didn't want to awaken my roommate. Breakfast never came until almost 8 a.m. However, I couldn't have slept late anyway. A young man from the lab often rushed in about 4:45 a.m., turned on the light, and cheerfully drew my blood. So much for my roommate's sleep, although she seemed able to go back to sleep quickly. I still wonder what all that blood was for.

The food wasn't gourmet quality, but it wasn't bad. My requests for skim milk (rather than 2% or whole) and for cold cereal rather than the awful hot varieties were usually ignored, there wasn't much fresh fruit, and the coffee was undrinkable. Still, the occasional piece of cake, chocolate chip cookie, or small serving of ice cream made the menu bearable. In a way, it was a relief to avoid having to think about what to eat. I was always hungry by the time the food came.

The best feature of my stay was the chance to see and hear from some old friends--visitors. I learned that even a loner like me can depend on friends for help and comfort. I am especially grateful to the friend who stopped by my condo twice a week to pick up my mail and deliver it to me, the employee of the Clare, my future home, who brought me some clothes and some stamps for paying bills, and my former teaching colleagues (I retired nine years ago) who sent flowers. My visitors were few, but very important.

I hope I can avoid nursing homes in the future, but at least I know what to expect. I hated the feeling of helplessness. The secret is patience. A nursing home stay is no picnic, but it's bearable.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Make No Small Plans!

The holidays are creeping up on us. The Macy's tree is up and lighted, the Michigan Avenue Lights Festival is only a week away, and it's not even Thanksgiving yet.

Holidays can be a problem for those of us who live alone, far from relatives, but I made a big decision yesterday: I made plane reservations to accept my niece's invitation to visit her and her family in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Christmas.

I've enjoyed visiting Cindy and her family in Houston, Texas, and now that they've moved to Tulsa, I'm anxious to see their "new" (remodeled) house, and of course to see them again this year.

Planning the trip requires a leap of faith: faith that I'll be able to walk well enough to travel by late December. It also brings thoughts of my unsold condo and my scheduled move to The Clare on January 9. At the very least, this will be a challenging holiday season.

Someone said, "Make no small plans." Time will tell if mine are overly ambitious, but just having those reservations makes me feel hopeful.

Rictameter from Rehab

This is the second rictameter I wrote while I was recovering in a nursing home. "Kindness" was the first; see it in my other blog, Write Your Life!

Rictamer from Rehab

Yes, it's painful
Bending legs so stiff, sore,
Knees expected to support me.
Heavy body, weak muscles rebelling.
Still, I need to walk, rejoin the
Outside world, go home to
Live where life's not

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Experience of Knee Replacement

This isn't my knee, but I have two that look remarkably like this picture. Unfortunately, my legs are fatter.

So what is double knee replacement surgery like? That's a rather long story, but stay tuned for more details.

First, why? Why would anyone have both knees replaced at once? This isn't a decision to be made carelessly. For me, it was a sort of "go for broke" or "let's get this over with" decision. Both knees were equally painful and disfunctional to the point where I could hardly walk at all (my limp was embarrassing), and at age 76, I just didn't want to go through this experience twice.

For those more timid or fearful of pain, one at a time may be the way to go. Or, ideally, you may have only one "bad knee." There was a time years ago when I did. The other knee caught up rather rapidly.

Are there alternatives to this type of surgery? Of course you should try all the conservative approaches: losing weight, exercising to strengthen muscles around the knee, etc. If that lessens the pain and allows you to walk, good for you. Depend on your doctor's recommendations. But when osteoarthritis brings extreme deterioration of the knee joints and conservative measures stop working (as in my case), see a joint replacement surgeon. My knee x-rays were frightening.

So now I have new knees. They don't work perfectly yet, and I need to use a walker. But I have confidence that all will be well eventually. The estimate is three months for total recovery.

So if you have "bad knees" or a bad hip, talk to your doctor. Don't suffer needlessly. Despite all the agony (which I'll describe in later posts), I'm glad I went through this ordeal. Things can only get better!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

I'm Back!

Just a note to thank all of you for your kind comments and best wishes. I'm back home after my nearly six-week ordeal, and if you'll give me a few days, I'll be writing about my experiences. I still have a lot of rehab to do, and I'm not walking very well yet. Happy blogging!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Off to the Hospital

Don't expect any new posts here for a while. Tomorrow, I'm off to Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital for my double knee replacement surgery. I'll be back to blogging as soon as I get computer access again; I hope I'll have it in rehab. I won't be back home for a while.

Fortunately, my brother from Utah will be here for about a week to take care of things, and a few friends have stepped up to help. Expect a later post on the value of family and friends in times of need.

Wish me luck, and share my hope that even for knee surgery, it's "Never too Late!" I want to walk comfortably again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blogging: the Magic, the Mystery, the Power

Yesterday I was honored to participate in a four-woman panel at the Illinois Woman's Press Association's Fall Kickoff Breakfast. The topic was "Blogging: the Magic and the Mystery."

About a month ago, when I was asked to speak, my first reaction was, "Who, me?" My last public speech was my Wright College commencement address in 1996, and my life since retirement has been rather solitary. However, this chance to speak about my blogs and Elderblogging and writing in general gave me a much-needed lift to help me forget my coming knee replacement surgery.

One of the best parts of this well-attended event was listening to my fellow panelists and the lively discussion that followed our presentations. The able moderator was Barbara Iverson, of the journalism faculty at Chicago's Columbia College. She is the Vice President of Technology for the Association of Women Journalists and a very knowoledgeable blogger at

Kurman Barrie is CEO of Kurman Communications, a public relations agency. She was named to the today's Chicago Woman Hall of Fame in 2003. Her blog is mainly about her firm's clients. A sidebar contains links to Kurman Clients in the News.

Mary T. Wagner is Assistant District Attorney for Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, but her first love is journalism. Her blog,, is a collection of essays about family and many other things. She descrubes the bliog as an archive of her essays, her legacy for her family. She has published many of her essays in her book Running With Stillettos: Living a Balanced Life in Dangerous Shoes.

I welcomed this occasion not only to speak, but to discover the wide variety of and interest in blogs in the writing community. Whether commercial or personal, blogs offer a wonderful way to record our thoughts. As Anna Quindlen wrote, "Bloggers old and young know that we are on the bleeding edge of a renaissance in personal writing. Our blogs will become as important to our current and future loved ones as handwritten letters were to people of another era."

Here is the conclusion of my speech: "If and when the time comes when you are bored, isolated, or physically unable to pursue many actiities, blogging can provide a connection to the world. That's what it is for me. If you are too young and busy to worry about such things now, at least you already understand the power of writing. Share that idea with your older relatives and friends. Blogging is satisfying fun for everyone. Happy blogging!"

Thanks, IWPA, for helping me improve my connection to the world.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Big Red Ball Again!

On June 12, I wrote about Ken Perschke's RedBall public art project. The occasion was my seeing this giant 15-foot ball installed in the Washington Street lobby of the Chicago Cultural Center just in front of the information desk where I volunteer every Thursday morning. My attitude turned from indifference to admiration as I noted public reaction to this strange and unexpected sight.

The ball reappeared in Chicago this month, moving from public place to public place, where it drew double takes, laughter, and interest everywhere from Millenium Park to the chess pavilion on the lake in Lincoln Park to Federal Plaza near the Calder sculpture. With my limited walking ability, I didn't see it in any of those places, but it occasionally got newspaper and TV notice.

Today marked the ball's final Chicago appearance, back at the Cultural Center. I was there. This time, it was just being inflated, so I first saw it hanging from the second floor walkway above the lobby. Eventually it reached full size, suspended above the huge Washington Street entrance to the building. By now, it was eagerly awaited. Groups of school children gathered, hoping for chances to jump and play on the ball. Unfortunately, the late appearance and location of the ball precluded such play, but I was able to see some unsuspecting visitors' amazement when they were directed to look up. Cameras were flashing; I wish I'd had mine with me.

I've never known much about modern art or public (usually outdoor) art, yet this was fun. It's art that brings and has brought smiles worldwide. Next stop: Toronto.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne.
Photo: The ball at the Cultural Center, September 25.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cubs Win! But the News is Not All Good

Yesterday, I explained the annoying uncertainties of my life. One bright spot is the Chicago Cubs' chance at the playoffs and the World Series. Well, the Cubs won, and they are now NL Central champs!

Yesterday would have been a good day, except that my main computer crashed and was hauled away for analysis. I now have to use my quirky laptop, and that's not easy. I guess I'm overdue for a new desktop computer, but I hate to buy one right now. We'll see.

If I can persuade my laptop to keep connecting to my wireless network (it sometimes refuses to do so), I'll keep blogging, but don't be surprised if I skip more days than usual. And the Cubs do play again today, as do the Chicago Bears. Now if my TV set just keeps working!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More Uncertainty About The Clare

I've been writing off and on for several years now about my future move to The Clare at Water Tower, the highrise senior continuous care building now a feature of Chicago's Gold Coast skyline. As I've explained, I love city living, and now that I no longer want to live alone and without help if I need it, I have no desire to move to less expensive facitities in the suburbs. "Go for the best" has been my motto. Now, I'm beginning to wonder whether or not I can afford the best.

I signed up for The Clare in 2004, when the projected completion date was mid- to late 2006. The usual unavoidable delays and snags developed, of course, and the move-in date kept being postponed. I followed the whole process with interest. I still want to move there. For further information, you'll find a link to the Clare web site among the links on the right side of this blog.

In 2004, I was relatively healthy, the owner of a luxury condo that would have sold very quickly at a nice profit. With my good pension income, I thought that I'd have enough to manage the huge entrance fee and monthly expenses, even though I'm apparently not as affluent as the average future Clare resident. Today, my arthritis has progressed to the point that double knee replacement surgery is an urgent necessity; I'm in some pain, and I can barely walk short distances. My surgery is scheduled for October 6. Since I live alone, I'll have to go to a rehab center for some time. My life will surely be disrupted for quite a while. My condo has been on the market for months, and has not sold, despite a price reduction.

As for The Clare, it's nearly complete, and my projected move-in date is mid to late December. Will I be ready either physically or financially to move in? Will I be able to come up with the steep entrance fee? The recent financial news distresses me, even though my only exposure to stocks is my modest investment in mutual funds. AIG holds a large share of my retirement money, but I've been assured it's safe. I certainly hope so. I have no plans to stash cash under my mattress.

All this uncertainty has brought me close to depression, but I'm trying to look at the bright side: many elders are far worse off than I, with lower fixed incomes and limited assets. I still have a roof over my head and food to eat and a few good friends when I can overcome my loner status and contact them.

Waiting for and dreading October 6 (not to mention my 76th birthday on October 12) are hard, but I keep telling myself that all will turn out well. And at least the Chicago Cubs still have a chance to go to the playoffs and the World Series. Hope springs eternal!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Realities of Alzheimer's: A Book Review

A review of Measure of the Heart: a Father's Alzheimer's, a Daughter's Return, by Mary Ellen Geist (Springboard 2008).

As lifespans lengthen, it's an unfortunate reality that more and more of us are likely to encounter the tragedy of Alzheimer's Disease. In Measure of the Heart, ambitious, successful California and New York radio news anchor and reporter Mary Ellen Geist tells of leaving her career to help her mother care for her father as he declines in the clutches of this terrible affliction.

Both an exlanation of Alzheimers and a personal caregiver's memoir, this book explores the tragic effects of the disease on the vctim and his family. As the disease progresses, the author learns to let herself be guided by her heart rather than by the pressures of her demanding career.

This very personal story helps to explain the devotion of Woody Geist's wife, daughters, and other family members to this nice, kind, cheerful former CEO who loves to play tennis and to sing, activities he is able to continue long after the disease strikes. The family's selfless devotion and refusal to put Woody into a care facility seem puzzling as the disease progresses, and yet their extraordinary love is admirable.

In addition to telling the victim's and caregivers' stories, this book explores and lists various resources: helpful organizations, publications, and web sites devoted to Alzheimer's and those dealing with it. The book makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever wondered about the disease or marveled at the dedication of those dealing with its victims. For anyone faced with an Alzheimer's diagnosis in the famiy, it should be required reading.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, September 12, 2008

Facing Knee Replacement Surgery

Well, it's finally going to happen. I've had "bad knees," or at least one, since the 1980's. I had arthroscopic surgery in 1984, and after a temporary respite, things just keep getting worse. My left knee eventually became just as sore and disfunctional as the right. The problems, of course, are arthritis and advancing age. My late mother had the same problems. I've had all the exercises and therapy, but I've finally reached the stage where walking is nearly impossible, even with the stiff-legged gait I've developed over time (no wonder I tend to fall down occasionally).

Anyway, I finally got up the courage to talk to my primary care physician about this (she had been aware of my condition for years, and had urged me to see a knee surgeon), and this time I listened. This week, I actually followed her advice. The x-rays looked awful, and surgery was strongly recommended. It's that or a wheelchair.

So finally I'm scheduled for double knee replacements on October 6. There are a lot of problems, one being that since I live alone far from family and without available close friends, I don't have the usual caregivers. I'll need to move to a rehab center for longer than usual. My doctor has promised to arrange such things. Also, my move to The Clare is tentatively scheduled for mid- to late December, and my condo hasn't been sold yet. That's too much uncertainty for me. Not to mention that I'll be grounded for my 76th birthday on October 12.

As usual, I need to look at the brighter side: I have a few good (although busy) friends who will help if and when they can. They are concerned, as are my far-away relatives. I'm not as isolated as I thought. Also, I hope to have computer access fairly soon after the operation, so I should have a lot to write about. I've heard a lot of stories from people who have had such operations, and most have been positive. I'll get through this; now it's the waiting that bothers me. Time to get a lot of things done! I'll blog my way through this, trying to follow my own advice about "Writing to heal."

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Thoughts on Grandparents' Day

This day had no special meaning for me. Unlike most people my age, I have no children or grandchilden, and I've reached the age when I no longer have living grandparents to honor. Still, a photo from my mother's album reminded me of my maternal grandparents, Edward S. Uhl and Minnie Louise Blanchard Uhl.

This picture shows them early in the 1900's, probably before my mother was born. I never knew Grandpa Uhl. He died the week before my mother's high school graduation, so I know him only though her memories.

I did know Grandma Minnie, as we called her. My first memory of her was as a spirited widow who drove an old Chevy coupe with a rumble seat. As a child, I loved to ride in that rumble seat, wearing a scarf and sunglasses and pretending to be a famous movie star in disguise.

Later, our whole famiy visited her and her third husband on a small farm near tiny Scales Mound, Illinois. The things I remember best about those trips are the kerosene lamps and the outhouse (we'd always had electriciy and indoor plumbing at home in Wisconsin), a shed that suddenly collapsed with a bang one night while we slept, and a mysterious, boarded-up one-room school nearby. My brother and I loved to peer through the cracks to see this fascinating artifact from the past.

For her time, Grandma Minnie was a remarkable woman, a survivor. Despite her lack of economic advantages and education, she always worked hard, and coped with the loss of three husbands and eventually, of her only son, my Uncle Eddie. She did farm work, cooked, baked, cleaned, sold various products door-to-door, read, worked crossword puzzles very successfully in ink, and lived without many of the advantages I've always taken for granted until very late in her life. For her, the walk down the garden path to the outhouse was part of life, even in a time when it was a curiosity to the rest of us.

My father's family looked down on Grandma Minnie and her various husbands as virtually "trailer trash," but my mother and I always admired her spirit. Nothing seemed to get her down; there was no pretense about her. She lived to age 89, finally crocheting colorful flowers for charity at the small town nursing home where she spent her final days. I still have a few of those flowers.

Most of Grandma's grandchildren and great-grandchildren have attended college and achieved success beyond anything Grandma Minnie ever dreamed of. Perhaps those of us who have adopted veneers of sophistication and become accustomed to today's luxuries need grandparents' day to remember those who came before us. Grandma Minnie still lives in my memory to teach me that it's not the material things that count most.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Importance of Elder Storytelling

I've written a great deal both here and in "Write your Life!" about the importance of life stories, both the stories we write about our own lives and those we write about our loved ones. In an article in the September 4 Chicago Sun-Times, Maureen O'Donnell wrote a story entitled "My father's stories inspired me to write" that reinforced my belief that we need to listen to our parents and grandparents' stories before it's too late, and either help them to record and/or write down those stories or write them down ourselves. Such stories are too valuable to lose!

The article begins, "My father, whose storytelling made me want to be a writer, listens to stories these days because he can do longer tell them. He is very sick." Her father was born in Ireland in 1921, and his stories of life in "the old country" were a form of time travel for reporter O'Donnell. She mentions a few of his fascinating experiences: Irish country life involving bringing in the cows, making hay, and selling turf; World War II in London; school life; seeing American cowboy movies.

I hope that Ms. O'Donnell has written or will write more about her father. "With his sharp, probing mind, given the same access to education that I had, Dad could have become a professor of history. Instead, he gave his love of knowledge to his four children, and, by extension, his eight grandchildren."

Read Ms. O'Donnell's article, and think about your own relatives. Don't let their fascinating life stories be lost.,CST-EDT-maureen04.article#

Monday, September 01, 2008

High Life in Florida: A Book Review

A Review of Leisure Daze, by Mike Mihalek (Heartland 2008)

Mke Mihalek's short, humorous novel Leisure Daze is set in an upscale retirement community in Florida, with a strong cast of characters including a conservative retired general who is president of the home owners' association and a liberal retired lawyer trying to unite the residents in a lawsuit to clean up a polluted south Florida river.

The story begins with two residents' innocent discovery of a large quantity of marijuana and the hilarious ways it affects the community. The pot finds its way into brownies and other baked goods and leads to a lot of happily bizarre behavior. Then the real problem arises: a Columbian cocaine ring that has been operating on the premises for some time senses competition and goes after the unsuspecting seniors.

In a series of strange confrontations, the suddenly more active and newly-armed residents finally win the struggle in their own way.

This book, by a 57-year-old former healthcare worker, should appeal to the author's contemporaries as well as others older and younger, especialy those who fondly remember their rebellious, pot-smoking earlier years. I'm glad that Mihalek dared to portray active seniors, with their peculiarities and foibles. Most of the characters in Leisure Daze somehow manage to be humorous and admirable at the same time. Their different views and personalities illustrate again that older people are not all alike.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Journey to The Clare: It's the Uncertainly that Bothers Me Most

I've been writing since this blog began (in 2006) about my coming move to The Clare at Water Tower, a new highrise senior community at Rush and Pearson in Chicago. When I began, the building was not yet even a hole in the ground; by now it's a nearly complete 53-story building. In the meantime, I've visited the building site from time to time, photographed it (before the building got too tall for my small camera to capture well), attended meetings of future residents, and mused about the plusses and minuses of a decision I made back in 2004.

Today, I'm still waiting. I've not yet been promised a move-in date, although I now asume it will be sometime around the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009. My Old Town condo is on the market now, suffering from the drop in the real estate market. I'm older and increasingly disabled by arthritis, although I still get around when I can. I'm beginning to consider knee replacements, but the uncertainly of my residential situation makes such plans nearly imposssible. I feel like I'm in a state of limbo.

I'm still happy about my decision to move. With few family members, none of them in this area, it's up to me to decide where to spend the rest of my so-called "golden years," and I love city living. I hope to move into my lovely two-bedroom apartment on the 35th floor, with the comfort of having assisted living and nursing facilities available in the same building, should I need them later.

So am I contented and calm? No, indeed not. I have a feeling of waiting for something to happen. Will I get an acceptable offer for my condo? The only one so far was much too low, and the price has already been reduced to a realistic level. Will I get a move-in date soon? What if my condo doesn't sell in time?

I've been promised, and I've received, lots of advice and help from moving coordinators and organizers and others provided or recommended by The Clare, but could I really handle, either physically or financially, a temporary move and putting my goods into storage? There are too many unknowns here. There's no one to blame, but I hate this uncertain feeling. Stay tuned as I blog my way toward The Clare and hope for a happy ending.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Photo: The Clare in June, 2008. Borrowed from The Clare web site.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Aging, Life, and Death: A Book Review

A review of Where River Turns to Sky, by Gregg Kleiner (Avon 1996; Perennial paperback 2002).

This novel about aging, life, and death is strangely compelling, a book I could hardly bear to put down when other matters interfered with my reading.

The story is told in alternating chapters by George Castor and Clara Paulson, both mentally active eighty-somethings. George is an Oregon farmer who can do anything and fix anything, or so he believes. Clara is a wheelchair-bound stroke victim confined to a nursing home. She is a former singer and pianist who misses her music, her cigarettes, and her drinks; she can no longer speak, let alone sing.

Both George and Clara are haunted by their pasts: George by memories of his wife's and only son's deaths and his youthful tendencies to flee difficult situations and Clara by sad memories of abandoning her only child, Amy, to be adopted at birth. She never married.

George and Clara meet at the Silver Gardens Nursing Home, where George's dear friend, Ralph, another stroke victim, lies in silence. George promises Ralph that he'll not die alone at Silver Gardens, and visits him often. However, he returns from a short fishing trip to find that Ralph has died and been buried during George's absence.

That unfilled promise fills George with guilt and regret. He decides to atone. George's fantastic scheme to abolish nursing homes in favor of communal living for old folks provokes derisive laughter, but with the help of money he inherited from his dead lawyer son, he follows his dream in a big house, painted bright red with yellow trim to the dismay of his small town neighbors.

Assisted by Grace, an elderly mystic, perhaps a witch, with a fondness for candles, George assembles a motley crew of old people, essentially by raiding Silver Gardens.

The group's adventures and ways of coping defy belief, yet when George develops a baseball field and forms a team of his housemates, when he saws through three floors with a giant power saw to install a primitive elevator for the wheelchair-bound, when he crafts beautiful caskets for everyone, including himself, when he plans and holds his own elaborate wake while he's still alive but fading, the reader laughs in disbelief and cheers him on. Meanwhile, Clara provides a voice of reason about the situation, gradually accepting it and supporting George, her rescuer.

While George's vision of putting nursing homes out of business, replacing them with "farmhouses and apartment buildings, old barns and converted warehouses, all of them painted bright red, all full of people just like us, living together. Living it up" seems fantastic and unattainable, this book and its amazing characters remind us that life is a circle, from birth to death, from river to sky. These are elders to listen to and things to think about.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Clare Lifestyle Committee: Active Seniors

No, this is not a photo of the Lifestyle Committee or of future Clare residents; it's a collage of active senior photos that seems to represent many of the myriad interests represented by those I met at the first Clare Lifestyle Committee meeting yesterday.

This small meeting of approximately ten future residents, led by our Director of Life Enrichment, Stephanie Berlin, produced quite a variety of concerns and suggestions for our future lives at the Clare.

I met excercise enthusiasts, political junkies, people interested in travel, cooking, swimming, dancing, grandchildren, bridge: just about anything one could think of. This is an impressive group, indeed.

Of equal interest are the backgrounds of the participants: the graduate degrees, career accomplishments, personal and family achievements, and current activities are extensive. Of course I was there to represent my main interests in books and writing. That's why I joined this committee.

While I was a bit intimidated by the perceived athletic abilities of some of the members, the ability to do things long impossible for this arthritis sufferer, I was comforted by the variety of interests represented. My earlier fears of being urged to participate exclusively in activities like bingo and bridge and shuffleboard (not that there's anythiing wrong with such activities), have been dispelled, and I was assured that there would be many choices and no pressures. For a basic loner, this meeting opened possibilities to get involved in things that might interest me, with interesting people. It also assured me that residents will be listened to, rather than treated as passive inmates.

Except that some had a tendency to be long-winded (I'm a woman of few words myself), these were people I hope to learn to know. Never underestimate active seniors! Forget the stereotypes. We're a capable, interesting group.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Elder Disintegration and Nursing Home Horrors: A Book Review

A review of As We Are Now, by May Sarton (W.W. Norton 1973)

This is not a new book or a cheerful one. When it was first published, I was not aware of it, nor would I have been interested then, more than thirty years ago when I was in my early forties.

This is a book that should still be read by anyone involved in or concerned about the care and treatment of elders and by any senior citizen who dares to explore what wasting away in an old-style nursing home might have been like for a thoughful, sensitive old woman. We can hope that senior care has improved, but somehow, this little 133-page novel still rings true and stirs understanding and concern.

This fictional journal follows 76-year-old Caroline (Caro) Spencer, who, after a heart attack, is placed in Twin Elms, a small, isolated rural nursing home, by her older brother, who can't care for her. She's a former teacher and rugged individualist. She remembers and admires a non-conformist gay college professor aunt. She dreams about a long-ago lover. She never married.

Her fellow Twin Elms residents are elderly men, mostly demented and hopeless, relegated to a shared charity ward. Caro is happy to have her own room. Her perceived enemy is Harriet, the owner and chief caregiver, who seems to treat her harshly and strive to remove all remaining shreds of dignity, or at least that's how it seems to Caro. "I am in a concentration camp for the old, a place where people dump their parents or relatives exactly as though it were an ash can," she writes two weeks after arriving.

What interests me most in this book are the things that have meaning and the power to relieve Caro's depression, at least temporarily: music, poetry, the rural view from the window and occasional opportunities to venture outside, the cat who isn't allowed in, but sometimes creeps into her bed, and most of all, three people who offer hope and kindness. They are a minister, his college-age daughter, and Anna, Harriet's temporary replacement as a caregiver.

Caroline finds comfort in these things and people, but her most reliable sources of hope are her secret journal and her plan to destroy her "prison." Is she driven to madness? Perhaps, but somehow her ultimate protest makes sense.

We can hope that places like Twin Elms and caregivers like Harriet do not exist, but there are lessons here: the importance of human understanding, kindness, and listening to elders; the need to allow old people pets and their favorite possessions; the importance of personal writing.

This book reminds us of the inevitability of aging and death and the immensity of the caregiving responsibility.

Belgian-born May Sarton (1912-1995) published 53 books before her death at age 83.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Story of an Elder Achiever

An 112-year-old African-American man who has lived about half his life in Alabama mental health centers sounds like the subject of another sad tale of senior suffering, doesn't he? However, I was elated to read, in an Associated Press story by Kate Brumback, published in the August 12 Chicago Tribune, that this man, Frank Calloway, is about to have his work included at an October exhibit at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. How wonderful to read about yet another senior citizen following his passion and contributing to society!

It seems that Calloway uses ballpoint pens, markers, or crayons on sheets of butcher paper to "turn visions from his youth into lively murals." He draws colorful pictures of rural agricultural scenes, "with buildings, trains, and vehicles straight out of the early 20th century." Two years ago, the Kentuck Museum in Northport, Alabama, hosted a monthlong exhibition of his works. The works are described as representations of a rural, agrarian South in times gone by.

At the nursing facility where he lives, Calloway, usually wearing bib overalls, draws all day. "That's what he loves to do," said the facility director. Calloway, whose formal education ended in third grade, credits a long-ago teacher for getting him to draw, but it took an art class in the 1980's to get him drawing again.

Still getting around on his own and joining in nursing home excursions and restaurant outings, at 112, Frank Calloway seems to shatter conventional wisdom about older seniors. He plans to attend the Baltimore art show opening, his first airplane ride and probably his first trip outside Alabama. How proud and happy he must be!

Mr. Calloway is an amazing example of the possibilities for elders to follow their passions and remain connected to the world. Perhaps that's the secret of long, active lives.

Photo: by Dan Meyers. Courtesy of American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fighting the Three Plagues of Elders: A Book Review

A review of In the Arms of Elders: A Parable of Wise Leadership and Community Building, by William H. Thomas, M.D. (VanderWyk & Burnham 2006).

As a lover of fiction, including some science fiction and fantasy, I was pleased to discover this book. In our world where, to quote Dr. Thomas, "The truth is all wrapped up in rules, regulations, dollar signs, and self-pity," where "the modern obsession with finding and proclaiming the difference between what is real and what is imagined conceals as much as it reveals," fables and parables may not be generally appreciated, but they have a lot to teach us.

This is a fable about thinly disguised versions of the author and his wife, a Geriatrician (physician), Bill, and a Gerontologist (social scientist), Jude, who collaborate to create "the comprehensive book that would successfully integrate medical and social research on aging." This young couple think they have discovered everything about the care and treatment of elders through their research. Feeling good about their book, but fatigued from their efforts, they decide to rent a boat and spend a month in the Caribbean.

A stormy shipwreck takes them to a strange, unknown land called Kallimos. In this primitive, idyllic society, the elders are the leaders; all the scientific knowledge that the shipwrecked couple bring from the "Other World" is useless there. All their ideas about society and community roles are overturned as they learn how the Kallimos community comes together to protect the elders from the three plagues: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. The elders are thus freed to pass on their experience, wisdom, and knowledge of life to the community.

With the help of two elderly women, Hannah and Haleigh, they come to understand and appreciate their new community, losing their desire to return to the "Other World." They take on their assigned roles, he as a goat herder, she as a gardener, reluctantly at first, since these tasks seem so foreign to their natures. Eventually, they vow never to leave this simple paradise.

Fate, or some supernatural power, brings another storm a year after their arrival in Kallimos, and they are transported back to their old lives, which they no longer want. Eventually, they accept Hannah's challenge to use their new knowledge to transform elder care in their own world. They discover the sad state of elder care in a nursing home where Bill accepts a job and resolve to improve it.

Thus was born the Eden Alternative, part of "an emerging national struggle to remake the daily realities of long-term care for staff and residents alike." One project involves "Green Houses," small residences for no more than ten elders each, with collaborative decision-making and a more human approach than is usually found in nursing homes. The last chapters of the book are devoted to the realities of using the Kallimos lessons to change and improve society.

I have little knowledge of nursing homes, and I'm not a geriatrician or a gerontologist. Still, I was fascinated by the fable that fills most of this book, and I recommend it to anyone thinking about the problems of aging and caring for the aged. To me, as to Bill and Jude, the revelation of the three plagues in itself was enlightening. As an elder, I'm beginning to recognize loneliness, helplessness, and boredom as things to fight against. And of course I like the idea of treating elders with respect and listening to what we have to say.

See Dr. Thomas' blog, Changing Aging, at

Here is some intormation from the Eden Alternative website at

"The core concept of The Eden Alternative is strikingly simple. We must teach ourselves to see places where Elders live as habitats for human beings rather than facilities for the frail and elderly. We must learn what Mother Nature has to teach us about vibrant, vigorous living.

"The Eden Alternative shows us how companion animals, the opportunity to give meaningful care to other living things, and the variety and spontaneity that mark an enlivened community can succeed where pills and therapies fail. It also shows us how real leaders can create a warm culture that is characterized by optimism, trust, generosity and people working together to make a better world for our Elders."

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, August 09, 2008

We Need "Bread and Circuses"

I'll admit to being old and jaded, to having a "Been there, done that" approach to life. I seldom get excited about anything these days, especially celebrity antics and other "events" in popular culture. I must also admit, however, that once in a while something catches my attention and stirs my imagination. It's usually discovering a new book that seems to speak to me, or seeing some famous sight like the Parthenon or St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow or China's Great Wall for the first time (and it's been quite a while since those personal "Wow!" moments).

This morning I watched a rerun of yesterday's opening ceremonies from the Beijing Olympics. I was amazed, astounded, and fascinated. Yes, I know that China has a deplorable human rights record, and I can't defend the country's politics. But I'm still naive enough to believe in the idea of all nations getting together in peace for sporting events. My 2001 visit to China, when this year's Olympics was merely the subject of promotional billboards, proved to me that China has much to offer the world.

Still, the surprising thing was how affecting the opening spectacle was. And I find it positive that basketball star Yao Ming, who earned fame and fortune in the US, serves as a sort of bridge between our two countries. I won't be watching many Olympics events; I'm not enough of a sports fan for that, but I can understand the appeal of the games. It makes me think of "Bread and Circuses." We all need our national pride and identity, even though no country, including ours, is perfect (I've never found another that I'd prefer, however).

According to The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd edition. 2002, this is where the term "Bread and Circuses" came from and what it means:

"A phrase used by a Roman writer to deplore the declining heroism of Romans after the Roman Republic ceased to exist and the Roman Empire began: 'Two things only the people anxiously desire—bread and circuses.' The government kept the Roman populace happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles (See Colosseum).

“'Bread and circuses'” has become a convenient general term for government policies that seek short-term solutions to public unrest."

I suspect that no matter how jaded we become, we still need to have our hearts stirred by events like the Olympic games and elaborate inaugurations and festivities of all kinds. The costumes, the pyrotechnics, the spectacles: in a sense, that explains the continued popularity of the British monarchy and the various events that can still stir our hearts.

In a world inundated by serious problems, it's refreshing to know that a few things can stir our hardened hearts. For us elders, watching on TV may be the only option, but that's all right. We still need our Bread and Circuses, and I'm happy to discover that I can still appreciate them.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Why I Write

As anyone who reads either of my blogs knows, I love to write, and both blogs occasionally feature mentions of my three books. So is this about making money? Hardly. My books are self-published (POD) books, and that makes them immediately suspect in some circles. Anyone aware of the current state of publishing will understand.

Anyway, my books are hardly best-sellers, and my blogs are not well-known producers of advertising revenue. So why do I bother writing? I suppose it's partly because I am old and retired and have a lot of free time, but there are other reasons. First, I was overjoyed to discover the power and joy of writing, and I want to share my enthusiasm with my fellow seniors. I've made it my mission to encourage everyone to write his or her life story, not necessarily for the public, but for family and friends. Whatever your wealth or social status, you can leave a legacy of your valuable experiences and memories.

Then there's the matter of recognition. Since I have no children or grandchildren and few relatives, I sometimes feel disconnected from the world. I suspect that's a common feeling for seniors, at least for those of us who live alone. It's easy to wonder whether anyone knows we're still alive.

Yesterday, my email contained a really encouraging acknowledgement that I had reached someone. My online friend, Lydia, of the Writerquake blog, (, wrote this, in part, about my first book, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor (Infinity 2006):

"[It's] an exciting travel adventure, a real love story, a condensed but highly interesting autobiography, the wisdom of a professor, a frank discussion of aging – especially concerning a woman alone – and a frank but vulnerable glance from a breast cancer survivor. [There are] picturesque descriptions of condos and classrooms, a neighborhood bar and long thoughtful walks, quirky cats and the value of poetry and writing, tours on every continent, and the expectations for a final residence, where, any careful reader would assume, a framed needlepoint picture of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage will make its home."

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I'll say, "What a wonderful, well-written summary!" Thanks, Lydia. It's great to be recognized and appreciated. I guess it's the hope of receiving such feedback (or any at all) that keeps me writing. Let me hear from more of you.

To see Lydia's complete message, go to

Update, August 12, 2008:
Another blogging friend, Barbara J. Kirby Davis of The Senerity Room, has just reviewed this book. Here is an excerpt:

"I've just finished reading Reinventing Myself, Memoirs of a Retired Professor by Marlys Marshall Styne and LOVED IT!!! Her book was a pleasant surprise--filled with honest accounts of a life well-lived."

For more of Barbara's review, go to

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Tyranny of "Stuff"

I attended another Lifestyle Event for my future residence, The Clare at Water Tower, yesterday. The purpose of the meeting was to present information on temporary housing choices in case our current houses or condos sell before The Clare is finished.

Considering the current real estate market, I doubt that I'll have that problem, but I learned a lot, just in case. My preference would be a short stay in a luxury full-service hotel, but I couldn't afford that, especially with storage fees for my worldly goods.

Anyway, listeners' questions quickly segued to matters of storage at The Clare. The mention of storage bins measuring only 3 x 3 x 5 feet brought dismay and complaints. As I listened, I began to think about "stuff" in general. Why were people so upset? Surely highrise residents won't be storing lawn equipment or major power tools or auto parts. A few pieces of luggage will surely fit into that small bin. Everything else I need should fit into my apartment's small closets.

I suppose prosperous owners of large suburban houses face big downsizing challenges, but a fellow condo resident offered a more optimistic view similar to mine. Why worry? My question is, do we really need so much "stuff"? I admit I hired organizers to unclutter my closets and kitchen cabinets, and I've not missed a single item that went to charity or to the trash bin.

Perhaps one of the challenges of aging that many of my future neighbors haven't yet faced is the need to simplify life, to concentrate on what's really important. Does anyone need 100 pairs of shoes or twenty evening gowns? With the possible exceptioon of film stars and TV personalities, I doubt that anyone, especially anyone over 55, does.

There comes a time when comfort and convenience trump style and pride of ownership. I've reached that time; apparently some of my peers have not. I suppose it's none of my business, but I'd advise those complaining about lack of storage to prioritize, downsize, and relax. You'll never regret resisting the tyranny of "stuff."

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blog News and Statistics

One bit of interesting news and a few statistics:

1. A second favorable review of my little poetry book, Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters just appeared on Pat's Place blog. To read it, go to

2. Sometime yesterday, the total number of hits or page views for "Never too Late!" passed 25,000. Since that covers the period beginning September 26, 2006, it's certainly no record. However, that seems like a lot to me for a non-commercial blog. It's gratifying to think about so many people encountering my blog. It gladdens this senior's heart. I guess I find joy in simply things, surely a good trait at my age. As I've said before, blogging is fun!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Literary Impressions of Aging: A Book Review

To delve into The Art of Growing Older: Writers on Living and Aging, by Wayne Booth (U. of Chicago Press 1992) is to discover, or rediscover, that the world’s literary greats have had a lot to say through the centuries on the topic of aging. This book, which I recently discovered, is a journey through the literary world by respected University of Chicago literature scholar Wayne Booth (1921-2005), author of The Rhetoric of Fiction and many other books.

From Sophocles to Euripides to Milton to Wordsworth, Byron, Browning, T.S. Eliot, and far beyond, writers have dealt, as we all do, with the challenges of aging and/or the contemplation of it. Toward the end of his introduction, Wayne Booth quotes Cicero, who wrote this in his early sixties: “For me, writing this book has been so delightful that it has not only erased all the petty annoyances of old age but has also made old age soft and pleasant.” As he wrote this book, Wayne Booth added, “At seventy one, which doesn’t feel at all to me like old age, I can say the same to you: Join me, friends, in this distinctively modern adventure, the almost certain journey into old age.”

Beautifully tied together by Booth’s incisive commentary, the poems and prose excerpts in this book are divided into an introduction, “Feeling Older,” and three parts: “Facing the Facts: Losses, Fears, and Lamentations,” “Cures, Consolations, Celebrations,” and “A Further Harvest.” I find it interesting that the “Cures, Consolations, Celebrations” section is by far the longest, indicating Booth’s own positive view of aging. I hope that’s a universal trend.

W. B. Yeats, in “Sailing to Byzantium,” laments in the first stanza, “That is no country for old men. The young / In one another’s arms, birds in the trees / . . . Caught in that sensual music all neglect / Monuments of unageing intellect.” However, he finds solace in his hope to escape, in artistic, non-human form, to a golden bough from which to sing of “What is past, or passing, or to come.”

Lighter and more humorous views of aging are included as well. In “Life Begins at 80,” Frank C. Laubach wrote, “If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised that you are still alive. They treat you with respect just for having lived so long. Actually they seem surprised that you can walk and talk sensibly. So please, folks, try to make it to 80. If you ask me, life begins at 80.”

I like that fact that Booth democratically includes some less-than-famous writers: Minnie Hodapp, at the age of 92, wrote in “I Haven’t Lost My Marbles Yet!” “I sometimes feel a bit bereft / Of youthful eyes and ears-- / But when I think of all that’s left / My trouble disappears. / So life goes on without upset / ‘Cause I ain’t lost no marbles yet.” Great poetry? No, but I like Hodapp’s spirit.

With an index and pages of notes and sources, this is a scholarly book, but its appeal should extend beyond literature majors. As Booth says, “You can make a good start on a reading program that can well last for the rest of your life by consulting first the books I praise as I go along and then the booklists provided by the ten works I list following the endnotes. . . . Spend a year on those lists, and first thing you know you’ll have become an expert and people will begin calling you a gerontologist.” However, if you’re just looking for inspiration and interesting quotes about growing older, this book is the ultimate source.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reminders From a Distant Past

This is a cocktail napkin from the Old Town Pump, arguably the first "singles bar" in Chicago (it opened before the famous Butch McGuire's). It was located in Chicago's Old Town, not far from where I live now, from the late 1950's through most of the 1960's. It was sometimes known as a post-college "rah-rah" bar, where the boys often wore plaid bermuda shorts and the girls, beehive hairdos.

My late husband Jules was a co-owner, bartender, and guiding spirit behind this place; running it was a highlight of his life. It was a part of his life that he talked about until the end. He made many lasting friendships there, and so did I.

I met him there in 1964 (no, I wasn't much of a drinker or bar person, but the Pump was like a social club). We didn't marry until 1970, when the Pump was only a fond recent memory.

During the past two weeks, I have been reminded of the Old Town Pump by two things: a dinner with four old friends from those days (old as in both age and time, although I am a bit older than the others) and an encounter with the Old Town Pump slides, the pictures I took there of parties, Old Town Art Fair celebrations, and other days and nights of revelry. Taking pictures was my way of feeling useful, since a full evening of drinking beer was far beyond my capacity.

The dinner (the same group, with a few variations, has met occasionally in the last few years) was a nostalgic occasion. I believe that four of the five of us met our husbands at the Old Town Pump; one never married. Of the rest, only one has a living husband. Three of us are widowed. Two have grown children; those two also have grandchildren. All but one of us are retired from a variety of careers. All but one of us seems to walk with difficulty; we're all a bit overweight. We are all reminders of the passage of time.

The dinner conversation was punctuated by "Do you remember such-and-such an event or person? Do you remember when (so-and-so) did . . . ?" That brought up memories of the OTP slides, which were frequently shown during events at the Pump. While slides were the medium of choice then, I long ago switched to color snapshots, and finally, to digital photography. The old slides sat in my closet and gathered dust.

Fate intervened in the person of a lovely young woman, the daughter of another, somewhat younger Old Town Pump couple. She found me on line through my books and my blogs, and emailed me to ask about OTP memorabilia for her parents' wedding anniversary--the 40th, I think. Lisa came over to look at the slides, and I gave them to her. She had them copied onto a DVD, with music. Relieved by her help in clearing out my messy closet, I forgot all about the slides until that dinner with the "old guard."

I found Lisa's email address and asked for copies for myself and the others. She graciously agreed to bring over copies, and we watched the presentatioon together. There were the years 1966-68, when I was in my thirties and reasonably attractive--except for one picture of me with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth! I hardly ever smoked. I must have been a bit crazy then. There were pictures of people I haven't seen since the sixties, many of them now deceased.

There, of course, was my late husband, young, handsome, and smiling. In a way, the slides were reminders of the passing of time and of my aging. However, I was able to chuckle at the way we acted and dressed then. It was a different world, one I'm glad I experienced. I'm much different now, and I'm glad that I'm still around to see this DVD. I await my friends' reactions, and I've been told that this DVD may be posted on You Tube. If it is, I'll post a link here. We all need to explore where we've been. Doing so makes it easier to deal with an uncertain future.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, July 21, 2008

Confessions of a Reformed Slob

I've never been a fanatic about keeping a clean house, but once I could afford to hire cleaning help, the problem pretty much disappeared. At least I developed temporary storage places for the books, magazines, and papers that tended to be lying around, and I put them away on cleaning days. I always made the bed each day; I guess I did it to impress my husband and anyone else who happened to wander in. The dirty dishes were always put into the dishwasher.

Fast forward to the period from 2001 to the present: after my husband's death, I sold the house and moved into the condo where I now live. I still have a cleaning woman, but I live alone and have had few visitors over the years. During that time, I seemed to become a slob. I mentioned my messy closets earlier. I seldom made my bed; after all, only I sleep there, and no one else sees it. It's hidden off in the "master suite": out of sight, out of mind.

The few dishes I use tended to pile up around the sink. Putting them in the dishwasher would take only a few seconds, but why bother? No one else would enter my kitchen for weeks on end. Meanwhile, my closets and kitchen cabinets became overstuffed with things I didn't even remember. What a mess! Magazines and books were piled to precarious heights everywhere.

So what bought reform? The necessity of putting my condo on the market before my expected end-of-year move into The Clare at Watertower. No real estate agent would think of showing a place unless the closets and cabinets are worthy of viewing, and big stacks of anything are out. After becoming upset and feeling helpless, I hired an organizing company, and everything looks much better. These days, I usually make the bed, and the dishes go into the dishwasher at least once a day. When the agent requests a showing, the place is ready!

Today, beautiful professional photographs of all the rooms are featured on the real estate agent's web site, and a tiny picture of my living room appeared in their print ad yesterday. Everything looks so good that I'm happy to live here; I will be reluctant to leave.

So what's the message? If you happen to live alone, imagine strangers walking through your place frequently. For me, that has been the key to reform. Now, did I make my bed this morning? I'd better take a look! Old habits die hard.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo of my living room from Rubloff Real Estate site by VHT Image Works.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Ladies Quintet: A Theater Review

I have never aspired to be a drama critic, but when playwright Kathryn G. McCarty discovered my blog and sent me a press release for the California Galatean Players Ensemble Theater's appearance in Chicago at the Raven Theater, 6157 N. Clark Street, I was honored. It's always nice to be noticed. I posted the press release for The Ladies Quintet, and yesterday I saw the matinee performance.

I was especially impressed by two things: the skill of the five mature actresses and the five monologues' presentations of many truths about aging.

The presentation includes "The Garden Club," with Carolyn Kraetsch as Rose (pictured above); "Star Polisher," with Helen Means as Tessa, "Noel," featuring Sonja Christopher as Peggy, "American Sketch," featuring the playwright Kathryn G. McCarty as Lucina, and "Real Possible," with Sheilah Morrison as Pam.

Only McCarty fails to qualify as a senior citizen, but she credits her understanding of elders to listening to the stories of older friends, mostly when she lived in Chicago. In a 2006 article in Backstage West, she also credits her fellow actresses: "My relationship with these women has shown me that life takes us in many directions, but it's never too late to pursue your dreams." She seems to have realized at an earlier stage than I did that it is, indeed, never too late.

Perhaps the most impressive actress in the group is Sonja Christopher. Her biography shows that she is a cancer survivor and also the first participant ever voted off CBS's original Survivor show. I was impressed by her mature beauty, her acting skill, and her ukelele playing, used to help her character deal with the task of sorting through the belongings of a recently-deceased friend. She makes a shocking discovery among the friend's old letters, but snaps back with a modest scheme of revenge.

Rose presides over a garden club of which she is the last surviving member; she talks to the departed members. Tessa considers her star-struck past as she polishes the Hollywood star of Joanne Woodward. Lucina, a painter, talks to a granddaughter about racial and family relationships, as she attempts to sketch her portrait. Pam talks to her deceased husband as she prepares for a date. She is full of uncertainty about makeup, wardrobe, and the wisdom of dating at her age, but she ultimately decides to go for it. All the actresses perform admirably.

This is a show well worth seeing by senior women, especially, and also by senior men and people concerned about the elderly and/or close to joining their ranks. It will make you understand and sometimes laugh at the realities of the various losses we all face.

The Raven Theater is small and lacking in the big Loop theaters' amenities, but it is reasonably appropriate and comfortable for this small show. Performances continue next weekend. See my original post at for links to more information.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne